What We Learned This Week: August 19-25

LESSON #1: NETFLIX DOES SOME GOOD THINGS— For this school teacher, it’s the end of the summer and I’ve been collecting little Netflix stories all summer for a seasonal round-up through this column.  The news pieces and editorials are pretty much split down the middle between positive and negative.  Let’s start with the good.  For one, they put their money where their mouth (and hubris) is as they plan to spend an astounding $13 billion this year on content, which includes contracts with studios and their own created productions.  That sheer volume of content on Netflix has caused many to call into question what gets premium position for promotion and placement.  I like the way director Ava DuVernay put it saying “My concern isn’t being lost, my concern is being somewhere, period.”  Earlier in the year, actress Elizabeth Olson expressed a similar forward-thinking compliment stating that the screening provider gives independent films a better chance at a wider audience than far more expensive limited theatrical release to a shrinking supply of art house movie theaters.  Netflix can be a permanent home instead of a two-week swing-and-a-miss to small crowds.  I don’t know what savvy producer would say no that for a fair price.

LESSON #2: NETFLIX DOES SOME BAD THINGS TOO— The piles of negative dings against the streaming giant is pretty tall too, spanning a range between content choices and business dealings.  Competition is coming in the form of Disney’s own branded streaming service with a rumored price point of $8/month, under Netflix’s current price tag.  The Mouse House has announced that all Disney content will gradually be off Netflix by March of 2019, which might cause a drop in subscribers who want their family content.  Speaking of kid-friendly stuff, the loudest piece came just this week from opinion writer Tim Winter of USA Today.  His bold claim was that Netflix, as proven by its supposedly racy volume of content choices, has turned its back on family programming.  Along the same lines, Netflix is buying fewer documentary titles than it used to after long being a welcome hub for that genre.  Echoing DuVernay’s take from Lesson #1, the home screen is only so big and what sells is going to get the premium space.  That’s good business even if its not pretty.  Discerning consumers need to be discerning and Netflix shouldn’t have to make excuses. 

LESSON #3: MOVIEPASS NEEDS A FORK STUCK IN IT IN THE WORST WAY— Another week bring another clownish fail from MoviePass.  This time its annual memberships being refunded and thrust into month-to-month subscriptions, limited ones at that, eliminating the savings that came from having a longer term.  I don’t what else can go south.  The crazy thing is we’ve been saying that about MoviePass for months and it keeps surprising us with more calamity and circus.  Seriously, they don’t need to adopt the Lenny Kravitz song line of “it ain’t over ’til its over.”  Just quit already.

LESSON #4: ON SOME LEVEL, DIRECTORS ARE IRREPLACEABLE— It was announced by Disney this week that Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 will be delayed from its scheduled winter shooting date indefinitely following the dismissal of director James Gunn, which disbanded the production crew he hired.  The comic sequel isn’t the first or the last (especially at Disney) film to go through a change or delay like this, but this one feels more a shade more problematic and temporary than just changing a tire or replacing a dead battery.  This is replacing the battery and all of the framework, wiring, and bolts because of how each film is a team approach.  If Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 ever does make it, we know it won’t be the same.  It will take a hit no matter what not just because of the public sentiment, but because of the reduction in quality from an entirely new team working on the film.  


DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based film critic writing on his website Every Movie Has a Lesson and also on Medium.com where he is one of the 50 “Top Writers” in the Movies category.  As an educator by day, Don writes his movie reviews with life lessons in mind, from the serious to the farcical. He is a proud director and one of the founders of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle.  As a contributor here on Feelin’ Film now for over a year, he’s going to expand those lessons to current movie news and trends while chipping in with guest spots and co-hosting duties, including the special “Connecting with Classics” podcast program.  Find “Every Movie Has a Lesson” on Facebook, Twitter, and Medium to follow his work.

What We Learned This Week: June 25-July 1

LESSON #1: DON’T BUY THE DOOM AND GLOOM PRETENTIOUS PEOPLE ARE PUTTING ON ROTTEN TOMATOES AND NETFLIX— It feels like every week someone wants to pit the fans versus the critics and forget that critics are fans too.  This week it was a piece in Forbes.  Let me put this as simple as I can.  Reviews don’t make people pull money out of their wallet.  Products of interest do.  The content always sells itself first.  The frosting of random measured approval is second.  I will continue to be in the “want a better RT score, make a better movie” camp.  As for Netflix, people are forgetting about the huge access it grants independent films and documentary films.  Films like Okja this week wouldn’t get a puncher’s chance at the crowded multiplexes in this country.  A platform like Netflix lets it be everywhere.  In addition to being that kind of pedestal, the ability for audience buzz through binge and repeat viewing is something a theater cannot improve for a film.

LESSON #2: IF YOU REALLY NEED A NEW PLACE TO READILY AND AFFORDABLY ACCESS FILMS, HEAD OVER TO YOUR LOCAL LIBRARY— I’m not an avid reader, but I still frequent my local library through my children.   Especially if your library is part of a larger county or state system of shared material, the completely free access to both popular and hard-to-find movies is outstanding.  Before you pay that Redbox price with a time limit, a 24-hour Video On Demand rental, or even a full subscription to something like Netflix, Hulu, or Filmstruck, consider what you can mine and discover for free.

LESSON #3: SOUNDTRACKS CAN MAKE A MOVIE— There are films with cool soundtracks and then there are cool films with cool soundtracks.  The trick is not just having a cool soundtrack but using it to its fullest extent as a supporting layer of a film.  No movie in recent memory does that better than Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver.  That film isn’t throwing obscure tracks and deep cuts in there for indie cred.  Each song is purposely piece of the storytelling and the effect is genius.  See and hear Baby Driver at your earliest convenience on the loudest movie screen you can find.

LESSON #4: LET DIRECTORS DIRECT— I encountered a great deal of double talk this week on many fronts that all talked about directors and led me to this lesson’s title.  First, The Beguiled‘s Sofia Coppola is getting flack for not including a slave character or addressing the politics of the Civil War in her auspicious remake landing in theaters this weekend.  Right off the bat, she’s the writer and director and deserves to make those calls for the vision she wants to create, period.  I’ve seen the film.  The slavery angle or more men are not what the film is missing.  Look at the material.  The “whiteness” is the part of the point.  Next, I don’t know what to make of the coming new direction of Warner Bros. under Toby Emmerich when it wants to avoid hiring “auteur directors who want final cut.”  Do they realize they just hired and leaned on Joss Whedon, who had that final cut trouble with Marvel, to save one of their films?  Do they not look back at their biggest critical successes this century and not see names like Clint Eastwood, Ben Affleck, and Christopher Nolan attached the end of the credits?  I get trimming budgets, but don’t clip the wings of the incredible people you’ve hired.  Tinker as a studio too far and people like Eastwood and Nolan are going to stop working with you and then you’ll get the “bad for business” label, Toby.


DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based film critic writing on his website Every Movie Has a Lesson.  He is also one of the founders and the current directors of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle.  As an elementary educator by day, Don writes his movie reviews with life lessons in mind, from the serious to the farcical.  As a contributor here on Feelin’ Film, he’s going to expand those lessons to current movie news and trends.  Find “Every Movie Has a Lesson” on Facebook, Twitter, Medium, and Creators Media.